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    fresco of the Ascension

    Jesus of the Scars

    The Ascension of Christ connects two worlds. But how? Is there a ladder? What traffic is there between the two?

    By Edward Shillito

    May 26, 2022
    • Frank J. Attanucci

      In 1979, near the end of what would prove to be his last Good Friday homily, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen read Shillito's poem, "Jesus of the Scars" (1919). This homily can be viewed online (as a Youtube video): "Life is Worth Living | Episode 79 | His Last Words | Fulton Sheen."

    If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
    Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
    We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,
    We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.
    The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
    In all the universe we have no place.
    Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
    Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.
    If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
    Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
    We know today what wounds are, have no fear,
    Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.
    The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
    They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
    But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
    And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

    Man has never escaped from the thought that he belongs to two worlds; for some this is only a surmise, for others a joyful faith, but few can dismiss it for long. Life appears to be a scene with two panels; earth and heaven, seen and unseen – both are his. The one without the other is imperfect. If he has earth only, man is restless and hungry; if in his despair he forsakes earth, and flies to an antedated heaven, he deserts his team; he cannot be at peace; he is missing the distinctive gifts of this earth. Two worlds indeed are his, both mysterious, both inevitable, and somehow they are related. But how? Is there a ladder? What traffic is there between the two worlds?

    It has been the province of faith from the beginning to answer these questions; from the dawn of man’s thought religion has been busy discovering or forging links between the two worlds. It has never been content to provide for the soul a heaven unrelated to earth, still less to limit its hopes and promises to the human scene. Jacob saw the ladder; Moses went into the thick darkness where God was; Isaiah beheld the Lord high and lifted up; all revelation brings with it an increasing sense of commerce between the two worlds, and the note of triumph sounded at Ascension-tide reaffirms every vision given to man, and crowns every hope of his, and robs him of every dread.

    fresco of the Ascension

    Giotto, Ascension, 1305-06, fresco. Photograph by Steven Zucker.

    Since man has attempted to link the two worlds he has used and will still use the language of movement; he has seen in the midnight skies “the ghost of his eternity”; and since the heavens shining above him have been the emblem of divinity, to ascend has always been the way into the eternal world. The language once minted has never been withdrawn. But it is enough for the Church to declare with triumph at this season that the two worlds are not separated, for they have interests in common and they share One Name. It is in the joy of this discovery that the Church may greet the troubled heart of today.

    They who have believed in the truth of the Ascension find the unseen world singularly near and friendly. They set forth their faith in the only language which human lips can use for realities beyond the range of figures and symbols. But they are in a universe which they have ceased to dread. It is no palace of infinity; it is a home; it is linked to this earth by no chain of angels merely, but by the Son of Man in Whom they move freely on either plane. “Eternity is manifest in the Light of the Day.” They make the most of each world because they are citizens of both. They do not cease to desire the City of God because they have something of its joy and peace already within. It is such a confidence that is needed by many wounded spirits today.

    If only they knew more of the other world! So many are setting out upon that journey; a cloud hides them; they have said farewell, and passed into a way down which it is hard to see more than a few steps. What is there in common between their new home and this where they were known? Is there any common link? May we know –

    Whether ’tis ampler day divinelier lit
    Or homeless night without?

    In the presence of this question, whatever answer can be given will be eagerly heard; for the character of that other world makes all the difference to man’s estimate of this. If the worlds have anything in common, it cannot be a matter of indifference to learn what that is. If it is all that faith claims, nothing less than the reign over both worlds of the glorified Son of Man, then there is comfort for all who have surrendered their friends to that unseen world. It is to Him, not to it, that they look; and in the Ascended Lord there is the pledge that this earthly scene is carried into eternity; He who brought heaven to earth has lifted earth to heaven. Enriched with human experience, Himself the Pledge and Surety of the final humanity, the Son of Man has passed into the Unseen. At Ascension-tide the Christian Church rejoices in the crowning of human life through the victory of its Divine Redeemer; with boldness it declares that nothing of His workmanship or of His travail is lost; it bids the sorrowful look into the vast and dim eternity, and see the One Face that can make it a home.

    And therefore they who leave before their time are not cut away from all that kindled pride and hope in their brief life; they may not come down the ladder, but faith knows that they are in a world which shares something – and that the greatest thing – with this world; and they may “keep their surprises till we come,” but something not altogether strange, not unfamiliar, is theirs. This confidence comes with the Christian Faith in the Ascension. The mode of the Divine Life, revealed on earth in Galilee and Zion, is changed; but in that new mode He lives, and He in His spiritual energy still is within the human scene. He convinces the sons of men that He lives. “Vado et venio – I go away and I come again”; and because of that assurance the mourner today sees the lost friend, living indeed in a new mode, but sharing as the Son of Man shares in the eternal glory which stretches like a perfect arc over both worlds.

    Poem from Edward Shillito, Jesus of the Scars: And Other Poems (Hodder and Stoughton, 1919). Sermon from Edward Shillito, The Christian Year in War Time (Longmans Green and Co., 1918), 39–44.

    Contributed By

    Edward Shillito (1872–1948) was an English minister, poet, and author who witnessed the effects of World War I.

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